Student Spotlight: Akhila Kosaraju
From running a humble lemonade stand to supporting climate-positive businesses, U-M Masters student Akhila Kosaraju’s journey with entrepreneurship has been an inspiring one.
The entrepreneurial spirit has been present within Akhila for as long as she can remember, but the story starts at a middle school event.
“As cliche as it goes, my first taste of entrepreneurship was a lemonade stand at a middle school fair,” said Akhila. “I still remember the thrill of selling out the 5 gallons of lemonade I had planned to sell through the day, by noon.”
Akhila knew that others would likely be selling lemonade at this fair, so she added something extra to make her product stand out – a free chocolate cake bite with each cup. When her lemonade sold out by noon, Akhila was free to enjoy the rest of her day playing games at the fair with the hard-earned money in her pocket.
Akhila came across entrepreneurship again in undergrad at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur. While in school, she freelanced in design, and in 2020 she started a remote digital design agency with two of her peers. The thrill of starting her own company got Akhila hooked on entrepreneurship, and she hasn’t looked back since.
“The freedom to move quickly and design the way we operated got me hooked … This was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to be involved in the entrepreneurial community at Michigan – to gain the tools that would help me turn a feasible idea into a disruptive business.”
In the fall of Akhila’s first semester studying Integrative Design in Ann Arbor, she attended the CFE’s Women in Entrepreneurship event, which awakened her entrepreneurial spirit even further. At this event, CFE student programs alumni spoke about their experiences as women in the startup world, and students had the opportunity to network with the panel speakers and each other after the event.
“Networking after the event led to so many great conversations about the exciting work that everyone was doing. As a design student, we had done a case study of Warmilu in one of my classes, and meeting Grace Hsia (the co-founder) right there was super exciting! All these interactions inspired me to get involved with CFE and learn more from the entrepreneurial community,” said Akhila.
Akhila’s curiosity peaked when she found out about the Entrepreneurs Leadership Program. In 2022, she was accepted as a fellow in the program.
“It has been one of the most rewarding and inspiring communities I’ve been a part of through my time at Ann Arbor … The ELP program has shaped my experience during my time at Michigan in the best of ways. It helped me get out of my introverted self, reach out to so many people and make meaningful connections. It provided me with the space to experiment, learn from testing, taught me to apply multiple frameworks to assess each idea I seemed to get, and most importantly, gave me mentors who guide me as I pursue my ideas,” said Akhila.
During the process, Akhila also learned about the Graduate Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She continues to pursue the certificate in addition to her Master’s degree.
While she continues to earn her Master’s degree, Akhila plans to return to support her digital design agency, What If Design.
“I’m focused on helping climate-tech companies and planet-positive businesses gain a strategic advantage through design – to stand out through impactful branding, rigorous user research, strategy for innovative products, and seamless customer experiences,” said Akhila.
According to Akhila, her entrepreneurial studies and experiences in ELP have prepared her to take on this challenge head-first.
“I feel this is the perfect intersection of the skill sets I’ve developed over the years and learning from ELP,” Akhila said.
When asked to provide advice to undergraduate students considering entrepreneurial study, Akhila gave the following suggestion:
“The networks and opportunities that the CFE provides are something that brought me a lot of value during my time at Michigan. I would definitely encourage anyone who’s even slightly interested in entrepreneurship to get involved in whatever capacity that they can.”
Ready to jump into your own entrepreneurial journey? See how you can get involved with the CFE.